A California Gull On The Wing

A California Gull On The WingA California Gull On The Wing – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The California Gulls I see on the wing over Antelope Island State Park are nearly in breeding plumage just shortly after the official arrival of spring. I have seen hundreds of California Gulls on Egg Island just north of Ladyfinger Point where many of them nest, hundreds of them on the shore near the causeway, floating on the saline waters of the Great Salt Lake and lately there have been large numbers of them feeding on the ground near the group campground at White Rock Bay which is where I photographed the California Gull above with Buffalo Point in the background yesterday morning.  Very soon the “Brine Fly Buffet” will begin on the Great Salt Lake and the numbers of California Gulls will increase.

California Gulls are medium sized gulls that breed here in Utah along with other western states and some people consider them “trash birds” because they will form huge flocks near landfills to feed on the trash there. The fact of the matter is that California Gulls were here long before we started filling the earth with our trash so I don’t consider California Gulls “trash birds” nor do I think of other gulls in that context. “We” messed up the environment, destroyed habitat and created the landfills that our refuse is dumped in and the gulls have just adapted to the changes we have made. Some species of birds are adapt well to human caused disturbances but some are on the brink of extinction because they can’t adapt well. California Gulls are simply more resilient to the changes we have created and I can’t fault them for that.


Adult and juvenile Laughing Gulls

Adult Laughing Gull in breeding plumageAdult Laughing Gull in breeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Laughing Gulls are commonly seen at Fort De Soto County Park but novices to birding and bird watching might think they are three different kinds of gulls depending on their age and plumage. The Laughing Gull in the image above flying over the Gulf of Mexico is an adult in breeding plumage.

Laughing Gull in nonbreeding plumageLaughing Gull in nonbreeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 220mm, natural light, not baited

The Laughing Gull in this image looks quite different but is also an adult shown in nonbreeding plumage. This bird lacks the dark hood and reddish bill that a Laughing Gull shows in breeding plumage.

Juvenile Laughing GullJuvenile Laughing Gull – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/350, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 310mm, natural light, not baited

This last image shows a juvenile Laughing Gull which in size, shape and form looks just like the adult Laughing Gulls but the plumage is quite different in color and pattern. It can be even more confusing because Laughing Gulls in 1st winter, 1st summer and 2nd winter also exhibit differences in plumage.

Laughing Gulls may have been common for me to see in Florida but here in Utah seeing one would be considered rare.


Four Intimate Gull Portraits

Laughing Gull portraitLaughing Gull portrait – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I like gulls. I especially like being able to see them up close when the opportunities arise and will take advantage of my close proximity by taking portraits of these beautiful but often disliked birds.

This Laughing Gull was photographed in Florida several years ago on a day when I was shooting with two wonderful friends who were also photographers. The Laughing Gull was in its finest breeding plumage and was standing on the sand near the Gulf of Mexico.

Herring Gull PortraitHerring Gull Portrait – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, not baited

This Herring Gull was photographed at Fort De Soto County Park in Florida as it rested near a quiet tidal lagoon. I wanted to try for something a little different than a normal portrait when I took this image. I hope it worked. Granted the bill isn’t showing but I love how the eye of this Herring Gull stands out so well.

Ring-billed Gull portraitRing-billed Gull portrait – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1500, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I was in the water when I photographed this Ring-billed Gull’s portrait in Florida, the warm Gulf waters felt great on my skin as I inched closer to the gull. I was able to get the portrait images I wanted and slowly backed away from the gull without disturbing it.

California Gull PortraitCalifornia Gull Portrait – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/1500, ISO 400, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

What can I tell you about this portrait of a California Gull here in Utah? I love the breeding plumage and the clear white head California Gulls have during the breeding season, the dark eyes and the colorful bills. I also like the smooth background which is actually a rocky hillside.

Does this California Gull image look like it was taken while it was perched on a trash bin at Antelope Island State Park? Well, it was. Yeah, I know, people think of them as trash birds. But this isn’t a trashy picture. ;-)


A Ring-billed Gull – Light on Dark

Ring-billed Gull in flightRing-billed Gull in flight – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 270mm, natural light, not baited

It seems that more than a few bird photographers avoid taking images of gulls perhaps in part because they are common in so many locations or because gulls are associated with trash but I enjoy taking images of gulls especially if they are in flight or in a great setting. For new photographers who want to work on flight photography gulls make excellent subjects to practice on.

In most areas of North America Ring-billed Gulls are the most commonly seen gull and not only are they beautiful they are also fun and challenging to photograph. The day I photographed this Ring-billed Gull at Fort De Soto’s north beach there were baitfish in the hundreds of thousands running just off shore and pelicans, egrets, terns and gulls were all in a feeding frenzy. Most of the images I took that day had water or sky in the background but when this Ring-billed Gull flew into the beach to land it had dark trees in the background. The light gull against the dark background was and still is very appealing to me and I also enjoy the wing position, flared tail and head angle.

Common? Maybe. I knew as soon as I saw this through my viewfinder I was going to love the image. I wasn’t wrong.